Michael Neal from Dayton, fishing only his second year as an FLW professional angler, fished his way to sixth place in one of the world's most prestigious tournaments, the Forrest Wood Cup.
Neal won $45,000 for a catch of 44 pounds, 2 ounces of bass over the four-day event on the Red River in Shreveport, La.
The big winner—taking home a half-million dollar check—was Randall Tharp, who finished second in the FWC in 2011, losing out to Scott Martin.
"I fished a perfect tournament [in 2011], and to not win really stung," said Tharp on Sunday. But with a total four-day weight of 53 pounds, 2 ounces, Tharp grabbed hold of the 2013 title that had thus far eluded him throughout his career.
Locally, however, all eyes were on Neal and two more Rhea County anglers who made the cut to fish the prestigious FWC. Wesley Strader finished 14th, winning $20,000; and Andy Morgan finished 19th, winning $15,000. Earlier this year, Morgan was also crowned the 2013 FLW Angler of the Year.
According to the FLW write-up, as a relative newcomer Neal was "flying under the radar." The experts said that of all the top 10 FWC pro finalists Neal was arguably "the least recognizable name." He is fishing in only his second season on the FLW tour, and the first year he's actually fished all six FLW tour events, the 21-year-old professional proved that he was definitely worthy of bass fishing's biggest stage.
"It's just amazing," Neal said. "I finished 20th in the points this year, and that's way more than I could have hoped for."
Neal said that this season was almost a dream come true on every level.
"I kind of accomplished a couple of goals this year," he said. "I made two top 10 finishes [the FLW tour events on Lake Okeechobee and Lake Chickamauga] and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup. Going into this season, I just wanted to make the show. And I did that. After that, I just kept stepping up my goals. I made the top 20, and then I wanted to make the top 10. After that, my goal was to finish in the top five."
Although Neal ultimately had to settle for sixth place, his season could be summed up as a complete success by any conceivable metric.
"This is what I've always wanted to do," said Neal, who is also a student at Bryan College and the owner of Dayton Boat Dock & Grill. "I'm just really fortunate to have had the opportunity."
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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